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Racine County says it can't afford water study
Regional planners asking all counties to help with cost
By Megan Twohey
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Racine County has been asked to contribute $60,000 to a regional water study, but the county's top official says taxpayers can't afford the bill.

The study would determine how long the groundwater supply will last in the western part of the county and whether communities such as Union Grove could one day get water from Lake Michigan.

Philip Evenson, executive director of the regional commission spearheading the project, briefed the county's Economic Development and Land Use Planning Committee about the issue Monday.

Evenson, who took his request for funding to the county's Planning and Development Department in the fall, wants to know why the county has yet to act.

It is unclear how long the water supply can be sustained with the rapid growth of development in western Racine County, he said.

"Anyone who has to rely on groundwater for development should be concerned about questions of sustainability," Evenson said.

But Racine County Executive Bill McReynolds said Monday that the county can't spare any money, and he took offense at the timing of the request.

"I find it rather disturbing that five days into the new year, Evenson's going to a board and asking for $60,000," McReynolds said. "At this point, we've had to eliminate 60 jobs. Where does he expect us to find the money?"

The Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission had hoped to launch the three-year study within the next two months, but it's unclear how it would be conducted without all funding.

It's not the first time the study has run into trouble since it was first conceived by a committee of officials from local governments in 2002.

The committee determined that a study was needed for managing water resources. With $731,000 collected from seven counties and more than $250,000 of its own money, the regional planning commission plans to survey groundwater and Lake Michigan water supplies. It then will craft creative ways local governments can maximize water use.

While five counties, including Kenosha and Waukesha, already have committed money for the study, Milwaukee County has proven reluctant.

Government officials there worry that the study could drain tight government dollars. Former Milwaukee Mayor John O. Norquist has lambasted the project as a ploy to steal Lake Michigan water for the suburbs.

But it's important for Racine County to pitch in because the study would be useful for western Racine County, where development is growing and water tables are steadily dropping, said Tom Bunker, a member of the panel that proposed the study. Bunker is general manager of the City of Racine Water and Wastewater Utility.

"It's a study that has to be done, and the sooner the better," Bunker said.

Julie Anderson, director of Racine County planning and development, said her office is considering the request.

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